The study for many years of the internal evidence of the truth of the Gospels has resulted in a conclusion as to their truth, which my aim now is to set before you to the best of my ability.
I confidently trust that it will be accepted by you all, however skeptical you may be, as to the truth in regard to the contents and origin of the four Gospels. This most satisfactory conclusion is simply this:
The Religion for which Jesus lived and suffered death was, in all respects, perfectly natural, as natural as the rising of the sun.
What he is recorded in the Gospels to have said is in close conformity to the laws of Nature. His works were extraordinary natural facts. He declared they were done by God. And as explicitly he said that they were wrought as God always works, by a law of Nature, by the highest law of Nature, the law of the Supremacy of mind over matter, of Spirit over the flesh.
Humans are naturally possessed of reason and conscience, enabling us to know the right from the wrong, to hate the one, and to love the other. He is possessed also of instinctive sympathies, which bind men to mutual help by the ties of kindred, of family, and of a common nature.
Thus are we provided with the instruments and opportunities for that Humane Spirit: the Spirit of Love, for which Jesus lived and died, the Holy Spirit of God, the Divine Force, present in us as in everything that exists.
But in this world, we are in our infancy. In the earliest times, although the highest and best in us was only feebly developed, he saw, indeed, that there were invisible Powers over all.
The manifold evils of life, physical, moral, intellectual; earthquakes, inundations, evils terrible in their consequences, sweeping away thousands of creatures, appalled him, and his startled imagination saw in these convulsions of Nature and in the devastation of the mystery of death, the power of unseen gods, expressing their wrath and cruelty, just as men do. Thus what was named religion was polytheistic and anthropomorphic.
Amidst the teeming mysteries of Being, one thing, however, is discernible. Throughout the Universe there is apparent a purpose, or tendency, out of good to evolve a better, even the worst working to the same end, slowly, indeed, but in the Supreme Power's own good time.
Accordingly, it has come to be thought that man has descended (or rather ascended) from well-nigh the lowest forms of being-from the ascidian and the ape. In the primitive, prehistoric ages, reason and conscience being very feebly developed in them, men became the victims of an inflamed imagination.
And they saw in the terrible mysteries of suffering and death, the agency of a multitude of invisible Powers, wreaking upon man their wrath and vengeance. Thus he created gods after his own likeness.
Among the ancient nations the Hebrews believed in only one Supreme God, the Sovereign Power over all. Prophets and seers among them caught flashes of great truths of the duties of man. In their Scriptures a sense of justice and humanity appears.
At last, two thousand years ago, there appeared the Man of Nazareth. The religion of his country had then become a thing of childish rites and traditions, passing over Justice and the Love of God.
It was insisted that eating with unwashed hands, or with people of other nations, was sinful in the sight of God. It taught that it was a more sacred duty to give money for the support of the temple worship and of the priests than to honor and support one's aged parents.
Jesus had penetrated to the heart of the old Hebrew faith, and had found in it the two great Commandments, enjoining the supreme love of the Highest and Best, and the love of one's neighbor as of oneself.
He was thus enabled to distinguish what he conceived to be the essential soul of the religion of his country, not by any miraculous illumination from Heaven, but by his native, original insight into the human soul.
Human beings are variously gifted, in greater or less degree. Jesus was thus endowed by God with an extraordinary religious genius, so to speak. He saw the Spirit of God in every human being the undying Life of the Creator, distinguishing humanity from every other created being of which we have any knowledge.
-Adapted from, "A Washington Address," (1895) by Rev. William Henry Furness (1802-1896)